Compositions for the Young & Old, Pt. 9 | Hüsker Dü, “Warehouse: Songs and Stories” (1987)

The Minneapolis trio leaves punk behind on their swan song, a 20-song double LP of power pop glory.

 

 

 

Mike: It still is just insane to me to think that with the release of 1987’s Warehouse: Songs and Stories, in the span of five years Hüsker Dü had released six LPs, with two of them being double albums, one recorded live LP that serves as their debut, and an EP that could almost be considered an LP. In total, that is 118 songs. 118 songs. That is a phenomenal amount of output. And through that five year span, they went from an amphetamine-fueled thrash hardcore punk band to being the fathers of what came to be known as alternative music in the 1990s and beyond. Warehouse continues with the trend of further eliminating any traces of their speed driven hardcore roots. The album is highly regarded by critics even though our beloved Bob feels that the album would have been more impactful if it had been pared down to a single LP vs. a double album.
For me, there is a clear lack of a central theme or focus for the album. It’s really one Bob album and one Grant album in terms of songs. It’s a random collection of songs by two writers who were not really communicating with each other, or very well.
Jason: It’s Hüsker Dü’s pop album…kind of their version of the Velvet Underground’s Loaded, trying every style they can think of and seeing what sticks.
It could definitely use some curating, but overall, I think Warehouse is a very strong album. It’s definitely the Hüsker Dü album I listen to the most. It’s the closest they ever got to the sound Bob would perfect in Sugar.
Mike: It is almost pure pop. Much of it is wonderful, but there is definitely some stuff that could have been cut to make this an even stronger LP as a whole.
And for the record, I LOVE Loaded.
Jason: We were talking quite a bit about sequencing when we discussed Candy Apple Grey. I think Warehouse is a really well-sequenced album all around. Everything flows really well through the first 10 tracks, and then the last three tracks feed into each other perfectly as well.
Mike: I was listening earlier and yes, they seem to flow much better. Also, the sound quality is so much better here. Still thin, but beefier than New Day Rising and Zen Arcade.
Jason: It could still use a remaster, but yeah, the sound is definitely better. The instruments are more defined, and you can more clearly tell the bass and guitars apart.
Mike: It sounds much better in the car, which is my test
Jason: Still, a song like “Charity, Chastity, Prudence, and Hope” with all of the extra percussion really pops a lot better on the vinyl version. It’d be nice to have a portable version that sounded that good.
Mike: Greg’s bass sounds so much more prevalent here. And it really showcases his lines and the groove he has been adding the whole time. Grant’s snare sounds like a snare and not like he’s beating the piss out of a tin can. “Bed of Nails” is a great example for both.
Jason: Interestingly, Bob points out in his autobio that Bob and Grant re-recorded Greg’s bass lines themselves on 4 songs on Warehouse, which boggles my mind because Greg is such an amazing bass player. If he was half-assing it, light a fire under his ass. He strikes me as a guy who would play great angry.
Mike: Bob in general has not the best opinion of Greg, as you will see once you get more into the autobio.
Jason: Sequencing-wise, it’s pretty much impossible to beat tracks 3-5. First, “Standing in the Rain” and “Back from Somewhere” make a phenomenal pop pairing. Then “Back from Somewhere” ends by slowing down to half speed. Then “Ice Cold Ice” starts at half speed and builds back up to a quick punk pace. It all fits together perfectly.
Mike: I would even add “These Important years” and “Charity, Chastity, Prudence, and Hope,” especially since “CCPH” is so damn effervescent.
Jason: They’re all great songs. I just meant the way those three songs in particular go from one to the next is perfect.
“These Important Years”…man, what a song. For a band that was so abrasive such a short time earlier, it’s unreal to hear an album opener that’s screaming to be played over the opening credits of a high school comedy movie.
Mike: By John Hughes, naturally. And i know what you meant by the sequencing, I just thought “CCPH” flowed well with them.
Jason: That’s one reason why I disagree with the “They should have just made an all-Bob record and an all-Grant record.” The whole is greater than the sum of its parts by the way their two approaches are juxtaposed.
It doesn’t always work. Side 3 (tracks 12-16) is a jumble of disparate styles that don’t fit as well together. But with the rest of the record, the Bob-Grant-Bob-Grant alternating just works. It certainly works more than it doesn’t.
Mike: As much as they hated each other in the end, they really do feed off each other and creatively make the other want to be better.
Mike: I do love the song style of “She Floated Away,” but it feels a little out of place.
Jason: The first half of the record is a barrage of uptempo pop. So yeah, throwing in a sea shanty after all that is going to stick out a bit.
Mike: Not to mention the rockabilly number, “Actual Conditions.” But Bob tears it up on that solo.
And I see what you are saying about side 3. It’s much less cohesive in terms of the flow, and it makes it a much harder listen when it’s so choppy.
Jason: It wasn’t written until after Warehouse of course, but I could see “Actual Condition” and “Ain’t No Water in the Well” (a new song they played on the Warehouse tour, which was included on The Living End) making a good pair.
Mike: The album certainly does lose some steam as it goes along to a certain degree. The last six or seven cuts are weaker than the first half. Some of that might be as they are all over the map stylistically.
Jason: No way, man. It sags in the middle there, but “She’s a Woman (And Now He Is a Man)” and “Up in the Air” are easily two of my absolute favorite Hüsker Dü songs. I did a “best of Grant” CD for my brother and “She’s a Woman” was one of 3 Hüsker era songs on it. When I listen to Warehouse, I typically listen to the first 10 tracks, then “No Reservations,” “She’s a Woman,” and “Up in the Air.”
Mike: “Turn It Around”, “Up In The Air” and “You Can Live at Home” especially do little for me. “She’s A Woman”…now that would be an exception.
Jason: “Up in the Air”? Really? That song is one of the most beautiful things that Bob ever recorded. The band’s knack for vocal harmonies has only increased since “Flip Your Wig” and I think it absolutely peaks on that song. The way Grant’s echo-drenched voice croons “In the aaaaaaair!” behind Bob as he sings the chorus just makes the song take flight (no pun intended). And that’s one of the few Bob songs on this album that I could not imagine it being half as good if recorded as a solo Bob song. You’ve got Grant’s gorgeous harmony vocals, and that absolutely supple bass line (that I’m sure has to be Greg, because in all of his solo albums, I’ve never heard Bob play like that).
I really am stunned you don’t like that song. It took me a long time to come around to it just because (the album being so long, and so uneven in the second half) I rarely listened to it. Then one day it just clicked and I’ve been sort of obsessed with it since.
Mike: It just never clicked with me for some reason. I don’t hate it, it’s just kinda middle of the road. I do see your point about him doing it solo. He would really needs someone good to harmonize with. Without that, it just would fall flat
Jason: I have no idea how you can’t love “Up in the Air,” man. Bob’s iabsolute best Hüsker-era lyrics. “Picking petals off a flower/ Loves me, loves me not/ Is love another way to count/ The things you haven’t got?” That line SLAYS me.
Mike: I’m sure there are songs on Black Sheets of Rain that it’s probably the same for you as it is for me on “Up in the Air.”
Jason: “You Can Live at Home Now” is one that I like, and I think works well as an album closer. That said, it’s way too long, especially for a song that’s abut 75% chorus/jam session.
Interesting note: the first and last Hüsker albums are the only ones that end with Grant songs. That’s a nice bit of symmetry.
Mike: Oh, good observation. Not sure if they did that consciously, like how Bob’s songs always kicked things off.
Jason: He does say in his autobio that they knew they were using it as the closer when they recorded it, and the overdubs for that song were the band’s last studio session.
DOGS & PONIES
Jason: What are your thoughts on “You’re a Soldier”? I like it, though I know with that four-on-the-floor drum beat, it can be a little abrasive. I played it on the overhead stereo at the grocery store I worked at in college and my boss made me turn it off after that song.
Mike: I think the drum beat on “You’re A Soldier” is intended to give it that military march feel, but ends up giving it way, way too much of it. It is a bit off-putting. Lyrically, Grant’s almost downright caustic but with a certain happiness in his delivery (“You got a fresh scrubbed teenage outlook on terror/ And a khaki attitude”).
Jason: I love that line.
Mike: Such a great song, outside of that drum beat.
Jason: “Friend, You’ve Got to Fall” is a personal favorite that I don’t see get much attention. The lyrics are a mouthful—shades of “Crystal,” there—but the song is still hooky, and the guitar is so nimble, I just love it. And it’s got such a great, economic solo, too.
Ok, so we’ve settled that Warehouse is a bit overlong and a little too scattershot in its approach. It’s also 69 minutes long, which pushed it over to two LPs. If you were King of Warner Bros. and had to trim it down to 45 minutes to fit on one LP, what would you cut?
Mike: Hmm, I would have cut “Tell You Why Tomorrow”, “It’s Not Peculiar,” “Bed of Nails,” maybe “She Floated Away.” All would have make good tracks for an EP…release one LP, come out with the EP later. More sales, more reasons to tour, etc.
Jason: The very first track on the cutting room floor for me is “It’s Not Peculiar.” Haaaaate that song. That “ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-awwwlriiiiiight!” part is like nails on a chalkboard.
Mike: It’s just such a flat song
Jason: True that. On the tour where they played the entire album front-to-back, that’s the song I would have hit the bathroom during.
And yeah, “Bed of Nails” and “Tell You Why Tomorrow” are two songs from the saggy section that do go well together because they both share a dark sound, but they don’t work well in the context of Warehouse because throwing in a pair of bummers after 10 happy pop songs, they stick out like a sore thumb.
Mike: I like the idea of do the incredibly strong LP than come back with a decent EP. None of these songs are awful, just not their strongest and just do not work on this album.
The “ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-ah-awwwlriiiiiight!” doesn’t bother me, actually. The stutter step snare boom repetitive drums do, and the rest of his delivery in the lyrics.
Mike: And “Actual Condition” is a great song, just way out of place here. I would have taken that off and put it on an EP or a one-off single, maybe with “She Floated Away.” Listen to two cuts, both of styles you wouldn’t think HD would or could do.
Jason: We spent a lot of time talking at what we would change about the album, but let’s get back to talking about what does work. What’s surprising to me about the album (we touched a little bit on this, but to explore it a bit more) is that while Bob and Grant are on very different pages both personally and creatively, a lot of its best moments are collaborative.
Grant’s “She’s a Woman (And Now He Is a Man)” is a wonderful song with an uplifting tone to it that’s amplified about a billion times by Bob’s guitar playing. Again, he saves his best playing for Grant’s songs, and his solo here in particular lifts the song into the stratosphere. Similarly, I couldn’t imagine Bob’s “Ice Cold Ice” or “Up in the Air” without Grant’s backup vocals. It’s kind of surprising how complementary their voices can be considering how different they are, Bob’s being deep and nasal and Grant’s being clean and more pure pop.
Mike: For two people that really were not on very good speaking terms during the recording of this album, their arrangements are shockingly cohesive. Side 1 and 2 are incredibly strong. Yes, Bob brings his best guitar work for Grant’s songs. Throughout the album, his playing is technically better than anything he’s done before.
Jason: Oh yeah. There’s a cleanness to the guitar sound here that wasn’t present on earlier records. Take something like “You’re a Soldier,” which could have been played punkier and thrashier and fit right at home on New Day Rising, but here the guitar’s “chug-a-chug, ba-na-na-na-na” maintains that buzzsaw sound but it’s cleaner, crisper. Again, it’s where punk meets pop. It really suits the songs here wonderfully.
Mike: And that is what bothers me when people say, “Oh, they sold out.” Bah. So you can play three chords are a rocket’s pace and set your speakers to 11. That is easy to do. But weave heavy chords, with a melody, and a solo around lyrics and make them fit to add an emotional emphasis to a song or a certain feel. They didn’t sell out, they grew up and became musicians, not just punks with loud toys.
Jason: The band themselves obviously felt no need to prove themselves to the kind of punk fans who said things like that.
Mike: Nope, which is the best response they could give.
FINAL GRADES
Mike: Great record and way, way better as a final album than most bands’ final albums are. They went out very strong.
Overall, I would go with a B-. If they left this at side 1 and 2, for me it would have been an A. Or at least pare it down to an LP and a corresponding EP.
Jason: It’s an A all the way for me. As I briefly mentioned earlier on, this is far and away the Hüsker album I listen to the most. I’m a power pop sucker at heart, and all the big melodies and crunchy guitars just do it for me. In spite of the album being a bit overlong and sagging a bit in the middle, the strength of the rest of the album trumps all of that for me.
CLOSING THOUGHTS ON THE HUSKER ERA
Jason: For the uninitiated, I think it’s a toss-up between Warehouse and Flip Your Wig as to which would be the best recommendation for a newcomer. FYW is probably the best summary of “this is what Hüsker Dü sounded like” (as best as you can summarize a band that changed so much from album to album), but Warehouse is undoubtedly the album that will be most appealing to anyone who has heard anything Bob and Grant have done since and want to know where that sound came from. The only thing missing is the introspective acoustic stuff that cropped up on CAG and became a consistent part of both men’s repertoire later on.
Mike: I would lean towards FYW for initiation, rather than Warehouse. Absorb both before venturing further. I do love power pop but I had a much harder time getting into them because I went the NDR and ZA route which made things slightly more difficult
And your assessment is totally fair and gives big insight as to why one album coming soon is difficult for you to listen to, I suspect.
Jason: Which one, Black Sheets of Rain? Interesting theory…we’ll have to explore that when we get there.
Mike: Yeah.
Jason: Okay, any closing remarks on the Hüsker era?
Mike: When you go back and listen to what you would consider “alternative” rock of the ‘90s and beyond, you need to look at its true start which is with bands like the Replacements and, more importantly, Hüsker Dü. They paved the way for so many, to come out of obscurity on some indie label and make the jump to something bigger. Their blending of punk ferocity with pop’s melodies gave rise to so many. Read the influences that so many artists give, Hüsker Dü is heavily listed.
Jason: I think Hüsker Dü is a textbook example of how great musicians and songwriters can feed off of each other to create something that’s better than the sum of its parts. Just listening to how much the band changed and developed in such a short amount of time, and the shear amount of consistently stellar material they put out. It’s rare to see that in one songwriter bands that go through that kind of sea change, and yet bands like the Beatles or Uncle Tupelo or Hüsker Dü seemingly reinvent themselves completely from album to album.
Tune in next time as Bob leaves pop and punk behind for the pastoral beauty of his largely acoustic solo debut, Workbook.

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